Designing PDX

While most soccer teams just throw on a red or blue shirt and don’t think about their presentation, some clubs’ jerseys are an indelible component of their identities. These sides, with their iconic kits, are the teams I’ve always been drawn to; regardless of their records on the pitch, their look off the pitch is a win for me. Classic teams such as Celtic FC, AC Milan, the Peruvian and Brazilian national teams, and even clubs like Newcastle United or FC St Pauli are immediately identifiable based on the colors, striping, hoops or sash. In my closet, I have a shirt or two from all of these sides and I’ve always wanted to make my own iconic shirt to add to the pantheon.

After the 2017 NPSL Northwest season, I approached the owners of my local club, PDXFC, with a proposition to help re-launch their image—it wasn’t bad, it just didn’t seem to identify itself with Portland, Oregon. Rewind about 8 months and the origin story of their team is pretty straightforward; in winter of 2016/17 the league needed a team, Luke and Max Babson always wanted a team, and so they started one… 45 days before the season started. They were drawn to the bold colors of Black and Gold, and they used the Portland International Airport code PDX, which had not been done before—it was smart and it sounded bold and original.

PDXFC 2017-18 Home.jpeg

Luke and assistant coach Jason Bell worked on a simple but strong badge, which included an original typeface, a lion, and an old-fashioned leather ball. It was strong, but it never seemed to connect with the region, and to be honest, aren’t there enough lions in world football? The PDXFC front office had to focus on more important things anyway and Luke was bound and determined to field a competitive side and worry about marketing stuff later—he always planned to catch up to it. The club did well that year, finishing third and missing the NPSL playoffs by two points in the table. At the home matches, official Hummel jerseys were for sale and I couldn’t resist —I bought one home and one away.

For months I stared at them every day. I wore them wherever I could and was excited to talk about this new little soccer team in Portland. The thought occurred to me to reach out to them once the season was over and see if they’d be interested in letting me design a custom shirt—after thumbing through Hummel’s athletic apparel catalog, I had some inspiration and wanted to see if I could come up with something iconic for this new club I fell head-over-heels for. After sketching some concepts with pencil and paper, I reached out to a friend I made in the twitterverse who lives in Santiago, Chile named Alfonso. As a fan of soccer shirts, and football in general, Alfonso often used Football Manager jersey templates, to dream up new shirt ideas and he turned my sketches to something amazing.

We met at a bar called Cider Riot, on the east side of the river in Portland—the place is run by an old-school member of the Timbers Army named Abe who also happens to be an FC St Pauli fan. His bar is decked out in soccer scarves from around the world and it was obvious this was the right atmosphere to show Luke and Max Babson the shirt ideas Alfonso and I dreamed up. The night before, I had also been dreaming up a new badge, but I didn’t want to overwhelm them with all the ideas in my head. After a few drinks though, I was encouraged by a couple of Vancouver Victory supporters who were sitting with us at that point, to show everyone all the ideas I had. So, I presented PDXFC with the idea of changing their badge from a lion and an old ball, to the state bird sitting on the great seal of Oregon. They loved it and I went home looking for a way to make it all happen.

My first call was to the president of Hummel, PDXFC has been working with a rep on the phone, but they lost contact after the season had begun. The club was already decked out in Hummel’s Core SS Black for its primary shirt and Core SS White for its secondary shirt. However, I wanted to push the idea of a custom shirt to Hummel and offer PDXFC as a brand ambassador in exchange for a more robust contract. Somehow, I pulled it off and Hummel agreed to make a shirt of my design and that it could be ready for the beginning of the 2018 NPSL season. The next set step was to onboard a local graphic artist who would fall in love with the sentiment of supporting grassroots football the way I had—enter Richard Miller, who would go on to produce some of the most amazing graphic work any club in the world would pay tens of thousands of dollars for—pro-bono.

While Richard put the polish on the Western Meadowlark perched on the Great Seal of Oregon, we re-imagined the custom shirt with the guidelines Hummel gave me to work in. The new idea was sent off to Alfonso and after a little back and forth, we came up with an idea we knew we could put Richard’s badge on and everybody would love. The new badge and typeface were released at a party in the winter with the expectation that we would release the jersey just before the season started. That custom Hummel jersey never happened and faster than a well-struck spot kick, the season was halfway over and there was no reason to push the issue. PDXFC finished dead-last in their division; there would be no reason to release a new jersey for any reason and the idea would have to wait.

Despite being disappointed, I knew that the club was still on a contract with Hummel and that my design was still on somebody’s desk in Denmark. After a meeting with Luke and Max, they confirmed that PDXFC will field a competitive side for the 2019 Spring season and that they want to move forward with putting that custom shirt into production—to prove it, they handed me the production sample provided by Hummel. My design is hanging in my closet somewhere in between a Celtic FC kit, a Newcastle United, AC Milan and FC St Pauli jersey. With design elements drawn from all of those iconic clubs—and waiting for its release party on the most notorious of US holidays, “Black Friday.” The new primary PDXFC shirt will be released on November 23rd and now I can’t stop thinking about designing the next one.

- Josh Duder

Lola Vaughn